Flora Dell’s striking blue eyes are the first thing I would wager most people notice about her. They are mesmerizing. Of course, there is also her elegant style. But the best part about meeting Flora Dell is how kind, welcoming, and inclusive she is.
I interviewed Flora last month for my pet column in PrimeTime magazine. Her lovely lab, Cara Mia, was our main topic of conversation, but as is usually the case when you instantly warm to a person, topics move from the business at hand. When she told me some of her story I wanted to hear more and had to come back.
Like so many women I have met in New Brunswick, Flora has some serious credentials. Born in Montreal, Flora married her sweetheart, raised 6 children, and moved all over the country, getting her education wherever she could. She received an applied degree in Gerontology from St. Thomas University, worked with government in disabled adult programs, and calls Rick Hansen a friend. She was a recipient of the Order of Canada in 2010, and the Order of New Brunswick in 2012.
Flora’s gerontology studies made her a passionate crusader for older persons and in addition to sitting on national boards; former Mayor of Moncton, Lorne Mitton, invited her to serve on his Mayor’s Seniors Advisory Committee several years ago. It has become her passion: to make Moncton an age-friendly city.
I think the reason I appreciate Flora so much is that she made me examine my own ageist thinking. It had been my custom to ask each of the seniors I interviewed their age; when I asked Flora if she minded, she said she did, then gently challenged me, “What difference does it make?” I was taken aback, obviously. She serves on the board of the Seniors Information Centre, and the PrimeTime magazine committee and I made the assumption she would be proud to tell her age. But she was so right when she said, “What’s inside me hasn’t changed. The body and its configuration may have, but inside I’m still me.”
I had a giant a-ha moment right then. After all, at nearly 53 myself, I am eligible for senior discounts at places like Casino New Brunswick. But the thought of being called a senior makes me squirmy inside. I’m not old, I still feel like a girl. But why would I think that someone who is older than me should feel differently than I do? Even calling an older person a senior gives you a mental picture that doesn’t begin to recognize the many vibrant, healthy, and active older people that I know. So not only will I no longer ask someone’s age, I am going to simply refer to people who are older as older persons. It’s as simple as that.
As humans, we are always looking to categorize and label. And as Flora told me, not wanting to give her age is not a denial that she is older. I think the word senior sets a certain expectation of how they should act, that they are frail, and dare I say, in need of help? And adding a number to senior does nothing but add more expectation of this. We are each who we are and should be respected for that.
It’s time to remove the stigma of growing old in our society. After all, the baby boomers are a huge group of people and as we grow old, we will expect to have the same comforts we currently enjoy — and as the largest sector of the population, will have the numbers (and the buying power) to do so.
I stand in awe of people like Flora Dell and others who are working to make Moncton a place where we can all grow old with dignity. Brava!